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the students of Sarasota, twenty years after the visit of George W. Bush


The weather is radiant on the morning of September 11, 2001 in Sarasota (Florida). In a classroom at Emma E. Booker school, located in the socially disadvantaged district of Newtown, about fifteen CE1 students experience an extraordinary event. In front of them, their mistress Sandra Kay Daniels. But also George W. Bush, the President of the United States in person, came to attend a reading class and to see the progress made in recent months by these students thanks to a revolutionary method and the energy of Sandra Kay Daniels. .

The following ? The whole world knows it today. A protection officer suddenly leans into Bush’s ear to tell him the news of the World Trade Center bombing. A president with a blank gaze, a red face, who suddenly seems far, very far from Sarasota …

Elizabeth St. Philip, Canadian director, had the great idea to find ten of these students, twenty years later. To make them talk about the way they lived this particular day but above all to know what has become of them. Of the place they have at 24, 25 or 26, in America today. These smiling kids in the class photo become young adults, sometimes dented by life, thus tell their America. Hopes, fears, racism, patriotism, ambition, money, everything goes.

Racial tensions

The common thread of this journey through Sarasota is Ronnie Phelps, host of the local radio station WRBA, who sets the scene: “Sarasota County is one of the richest in the United States. But there is a gulf between rich and poor. The black neighborhood of Newtown is completely cut off from the rest of the city. There are surveillance cameras everywhere and police patrolling around the clock. “

Can we get by when we come from Newtown? The old kids in Sandra Kay Daniels’ class who tell their story have gone through very diverse trajectories since that disastrous September 11: prison for Tyler; career in the military for Lo’Darmian; social success for Lazaro (now a chemical engineer); attempt to create his box for Dinasty; difficult economic survival for Megan, in a wheelchair …

In twenty years, the children of Newtown have known a lot in a country shaken by foreign military operations, racial tensions, the election of Barack Obama, that of Donald Trump. But, for Ronnie Phelps, “September 11, 2001 rekindled the scourge of racism”. What despair of these children from disadvantaged backgrounds? “For me, the American dream is equal opportunities”, launches Sandra Kay Daniels, very moved to find her former students twenty years later. ” What are we talking about ? I have always lived in this country and I have never met the American dream! “, answers his former student Natalia, mother of two children whose brother, sitting in his car, was shot by the police.

The 9/11 Class, documentary by Elizabeth St. Philip (Can., 2020, 83 min). Broadcast on Arte on Friday September 10.

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